A ruling Friday by the Hawaii Supreme Court will likely result in construction of the city's controversial $5.3 billion rail project being stopped.
A unanimous decision by the high court said the city broke state law when it divided an archeological inventory survey of the 20-mile route into four segments. The surveys are being done to identify possible cultural sites that may be disturbed during construction of the rail project, including native Hawaiian burials.
A lawsuit filed by native Hawaiian Paulette Kaleikini in January 2011 asserted the city was required to complete all four phases of the AIS before construction could start. In March of that same year Circuit Court Judge Gary Chang dismissed the case, ruling that the phased AIS was valid since the Federal Transit Administration approved the project.
Kaleikini appealed Chang's decision, and in January 2012, the Hawaii Supreme Court granted an application for the case to be transferred from the Intermediate Court of Appeals.
Kaleikini believes the city divided the AIS into phases in an effort to push the rail project through the Kakaako area, where native Hawaiian burials are likely to be found.
"It's probable that they will run into iwi kupuna," said Kaleikini. "I feel that's why they had made this decision to do a phased archeological inventory survey."
Attorneys for the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation, which represented Kaleikini pro-bono, said the high court's ruling means unequivocally that all construction on the rail project must stop.
"The city cannot do any construction until the archeological inventory survey for the whole project is complete," said David Frankel, who acted as NHLC's lead attorney on the case. "The city will have to stop if it is going to comply with the law in good faith."
A few hours after the court's ruling was announced, Frankel sent an email to city officials demanding that all construction on the rail project be discontinued. Frankel said if he did not receive a response by 8 a.m. Monday, he would proceed to file the appropriate motions in Circuit Court for restraining orders and injunctive relief.
"The next step is for the court to vacate the permit and officially enjoin construction," said Frankel.